Danielle Schwartz: The Reality of Wholeness and Infinity: Visualizing the Space between Order and Chaos

There is a common misconception that chaos is synonymous with randomness. On the contrary, chaotic systems are definable by deterministic equations. Digital models of such equations produce beautiful geometries. These shapes are neat at the macro scale but on magnification infinite amounts of complexity are revealed. This incites a subconscious effort in all of us to create order. Since the frame is the most elementary form of architecture, all of the ordered spaces we inhabit are derived from it. By magnifying the corner, one of the most ordinary yet complicated boundaries there is, I hope to challenge the viewer’s acceptance of finite space. 


Lauren Robie: Mind the Motion: Drawing in Transit to Combat Rider Mindlessness

When the brain switches to autopilot, one experiences mindlessness, a mind-state often paired with routine. The urban landscape, specifically underground public transit, discourages the embodied experience associated with mindfulness. In order to inspire change, I have devised and implemented Mind the Motion, an ongoing site-specific art intervention. The method is simple: ride public transit, draw the environment, and give the drawing to a stranger. Because it is memory physically realized, the drawing solicits future meditation.

Brianna Rano: Baroque Ceiling Frescoes: Illusions of Reality and the Reality of Illusions

Apotheosis of Saint Ignatius, a ceiling fresco in Rome’s Church of San Ignacio by Andrea Pozzo, is widely considered to be the best of its kind due to its scale, execution, and eerily lifelike figures. Pozzo used five techniques to create this impression: trompe l’oeil, foreshortening, di sotto en su, quadratura, and anamorphosis. Additionally, to compensate for the barrel-vaulted ceiling of the church, he hung strings from the ceiling to create a grid, mapped the shadows cast, then appropriately distorted the images as he painted. I replicated the initial steps of Pozzo’s string grid process by constructing a barrel vault and string grid, and lighting it from below.

Tyler Pridgen: Cartesia: A Screenplay

Fisher Thigpin, searching for a solution to his insomnia, stumbles upon a mysterious drug called Sand—a mixture that, when taken at night, transports the drinker to an alternate dream world named Cartesia, along with a small circle of other drinkers. However, as the stress of Fisher’s waking life builds, the dream-like flux of Cartesia becomes more volatile.

By understanding and employing the rules that govern different categories of bizarreness in dream phenomenology as observed by philosophers and scientists, my screenplay seeks to create the exciting and visually rich dream-like reality of Cartesia.

Loren Kole: Ritual, Repetition, and Catharsis: An Examination of the Power and Persecution of 16th-Century Witches

Grief for the death of an individual possessed by the devil was a sign of allegiance with satanic forces. As such, convicted witches were tortured, executed, and promptly forgotten. In printing hundreds of broadsides and hand cross-stitching the names of every witch tried in the Jura (present-day French-speaking Switzerland) from the 1520s to 1680, I seek to reclaim the identities of these women and men who were erased from society for deviating from the norm. The installation reflects the historical work of women, the means to identify them as witches, and my personal cathartic processes.

Mary Kelly: Building a Bridge between Visual Arts and Psychological Science: The Use of Images in Relation to Trauma

In this project, psychological methodologies are brought into conversation through an art history lens to elucidate the use of images in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The project defines PTSD and its symptoms, obstacles in treating service members with this disorder, and how virtual reality exposure therapy (VRE)—a new form of cognitive behavioral therapy—shows promise in both evoking an emotional response and reducing the stigma towards therapeutic treatment.

Gary Kafer: “Becoming the Morning”: Cinematic Illusionism and Stan Brakhage’s Plastic Montage

My project aims to study the theory and cinema of Stan Brakhage, specifically his deployment of plastic montage, an editing technique that effaces the splice between photographic images during the course of projection by merging motion in one shot with that of the next. At the core is a translation of film theory through a range of disciplinary fields which otherwise have no immediate claims in the concerns of cinema studies, from perceptual psychology and neuroscience to the fields of ontology and metaphysical philosophy.

Sasha Igdalova: Neural Mandalas: Bridging the Gap between the Cosmos and the Geometric Brain

Illustrating the order of the universe through a series of concentric forms, the mandala is used as a ritual meditative symbol in conjunction with its function as an art form, meant to guide the viewer into a process of cosmic integration and eventual self-healing. Though this symbol originated in the Buddhist tradition, the circle form has been found in a variety of cultures across the globe. I am suggesting that the commonalities that arise in such different cultural traditions are determined primarily by a common neural connection in the human brain’s disposition towards geometry.

Kayla Fuchs: The Picture of Modern Life: Street Photography and Urban Modernity with a Case Study of Manhattan’s Lower East Side

My senior project explores street photography (defined as photography of strangers in public places) and its relationship to urban modernity in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I argue that street photography has an important function as historical document in that it allows us to relive, in a sense, one person's subjective visual experience of daily life in a time and place; it gets us closer to a sympathetic understanding of what philosopher Arthur C. Danto calls the "interior" of a period in history.

Emily Lenae Dieckmeyer: Image, Identity, Empathy

Because we often view the self as a discrete entity fundamentally separate from the “other,” it can be difficult to conceive of pain that lies outside of ourselves. However, images have the potential to cross this chasm. In my thesis, I investigate the connections that exist—and those that could come to exist—among human suffering, images (both still and moving), empathy, performance, and viewership. Perhaps such images can serve to not only bridge the chasm, but also to challenge the assumption that the self is so fundamentally different from the “other.”

Anna-Marie Babington: Fashion Invasion: The Expanding Role of the Fashion Industry in Contemporary Visual Culture

With the increasing number of fashion-focused exhibitions in museums, what is the relationship between fashion imagery and ‘High Art’? By examining the origins of fashion photography and the expansion of fashion filmmaking, the complex symbiotic relationship between fashion and art reveals itself. Furthermore, this link complicates curatorial choices due to the financial gains—but also cultural risks—of fashion-focused exhibits. This topic testifies to the expanding role of the fashion industry in contemporary visual culture.

Maggie Goldstone: Deep Metaphors in Advertisements: An Aid to a Greater Understanding of American Culture

If metaphors can be used to understand and influence thought and behavior, then changes in the way they are employed in successful advertisements should provide insights into cultural changes. My thesis examines Ad Age’s top 100 ad campaigns from 1900–2000. I married the text from 1950s-era ads to images from contemporary advertising, meaning the metaphor in the vintage text is expressed in a wholly different manner from the way it can be seen in its contemporary counterpart. The disparity between messages alienates the viewer from the ads’ persuasive motive.

An Overarching Vision

Visual Studies majors look at all the ways we see.
May 1, 2014

Penn’s visual studies majors learn to see vision as a process of both brain and mind. They study vision science and the workings of the brain along with as philosophical considerations of vision and the history of how humans have used vision for cultural expression. Every major must complete a senior project, which includes both a written research paper and a visual project—called the “making”—which is displayed at the end of the year. Ultimately the students can bridge scientific and philosophical thinking with cultural thinking and making, giving them a multilingual mindset.

Here are images of students' 2014 makings, with a project description by each student.